For many people a diagnosis of fibromyalgia is a relief. There is typically a 2 to 3 year gap between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis. This time-frame is getting shorter as there are now more concise diagnostic tests. Getting your doctor to recognize your symptoms as potentially indicating fibromyalgia is important. The reality is that sometimes they have to wait for a cluster of symptoms to appear before they will be able to order any of the new tests.
What is fibromyalgia?
Answering this question has suddenly become more difficult for doctors. For years, fibromyalgia was defined as a syndrome – not a disease. This meant there were a cluster of symptoms that appeared and indicated there was an underlying , but un-diagnosed cause. Fibromyalgia typically causes widespread joint and muscle pain, fatigue and cognitive issues. The new diagnostic tests have determined that there is an identifiable change in brain functioning with fibromyalgia that effects how the body’s endocrine and immune system work. It is not yet known if this is a symptom or the cause of fibromyalgia. If it is identified as a cause then the syndrome will be reclassified as a disease.
Who gets fibromyalgia?
People suffering from fibromyalgia come in all different shapes and sizes. It affects people of all ages and can be very detrimental to their quality of life. Some of the more common symptoms including pain, excessive tiredness, and fibro fog are well known, but there are a lot more symptoms and related conditions that people might not be aware of. The causes of fibromyalgia are not known, but suggested. Family history plays a role, as does prior illness or injury. Stress and depression are also thought to be potential triggers for the disease.
Whether you are male or female will change your symptoms too
Once considered a “white woman’s disease,” new evidence shows that more people of all races and both genders are affected. The issue was that the symptoms presented by men can be much different from those presented by women. With this new awareness, more men are being diagnosed with the condition. Not only does this mean that more people are now getting help with their chronic pain and fatigue, but that more money will become available for research on treatments and cures too.
The general symptoms
Here is a list of the general symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. One of the best things that you can do to improve your chances of getting properly diagnosed is to keep a symptom diary. Make a note each day of the following:
- What symptom(s) you had?
- What the weather was like?
- What time?
- How long?
- What you ate/drank during the day?
- What activities were you doing?
- What your sleep was like?
All of this will help your doctor make a diagnosis and to create a treatment plan for you. While there are many medications you can help with the chronic pain of fibromyalgia, there are also lifestyle changes that can help you control your symptoms too. Many people don’t realize that there are foods that cause fibromyalgia flares; learn what they are and you can reduce your pain even before you have the confirmed diagnosis. Making lifestyle changes can also be helpful as many of the habits that can aggravate fibromyalgia symptoms can also aggravate other conditions.
Here is a list of the general symptoms of fibromyalgia:
– Headaches – Migraine-like headaches and pressure headaches similar to sinus headaches are a very common symptom for fibromyalgia. They are usually accompanied by a marked sensitivity to light and sound, as well as tinnitus.
– Pain – Chronic pain in the muscles and joints is considered to be the hallmark symptom of fibromyalgia. The pain differs from that of osteoarthritis as it is not limited to the joints, but felt all over the body. It is described as being a gnawing, burning, sore, throbbing, aching and tender pain that is felt even in the soft tissue. The pain may increase with weather changes and with certain foods.
– Tender points – A common symptom of fibromyalgia, and the part that usually helps doctors diagnose it, are tender points. These are localized painful areas around the joints that hurt when they are touched. These are normal pressure points to someone without fibromyalgia, but to someone with it pushing on these points can be very painful.
– Anxiety – Emotional symptoms can include panic attacks and anxiety that isn’t associated with anything. You might experience crying at the drop of a hat, extreme mood swings, and irritability for no reason. The anxiety comes in two ways. The first is as a result of the chemical changes in the body that indicate the presence of fibromyalgia, and the second is from the stress of experiencing symptoms without any idea what has caused them before diagnosis.
– Cognitive problems – These are some of the most troubling symptoms to experience. They can mimic a stroke like confusion, directional disorientation, poor coordination and balance, short term memory loss, and the inability to recognize your surroundings. There can also be tingling and burning in your extremities and the loss of your ability to see some colors. People might stare into space for a bit before they feel their brain start working. One manifestation that people experience is commonly referred to as the “fibro fog.” The person wakes and never feels as if they have woken up the whole day as they have a difficulty concentrating and focusing.
– Depression – It is not clear whether or not depression is a symptom of fibromyalgia, or if it is an associated condition. Periods of depression, or the development of chronic depression may indicate the presence of fibromyalgia. Many of the same neuro-chemical disruptions that are thought to increase symptoms are also associated with depression. It is also common for those with the condition to develop depression for many reasons.
– Fatigue – Fatigue can show itself in several different ways when you have fibromyalgia. You can be too fatigued to start or finish a project. You can be really tired after finishing a project or even doing something mundane like dusting the living room. You can be too fatigued to exercise and even to function at work. It can be very hard for someone to move around and live a normal life when they are tired all the time. People have likened the fatigue they feel with fibromyalgia to be like the flu, but the flu never goes away.
– Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – Digestive issues are considered to be co-occurring with fibromyalgia. The most common one is the development of IBS.
– Stiffness – Joint and muscle stiffness, most commonly in the morning is experienced by both men and women. There also may be other periods of prolonged stiffness in which there is no related cause for the difficulty in movement.
– Painful menstrual cramps – It is not uncommon for women with fibromyalgia to experience painful menstrual cramps, bloating, gas or heavy bleeding too. One of the overlapping conditions can include tender and lumpy breasts which are called fibromyalgia cystic and severe PMS Changes in your period should be noted and reported to both your GP and OB-GYN.
– Difficulty sleeping – Sleep can be disrupted by the pain and shortness of breath that comes along with fibromyalgia but there are also symptoms that make it difficult to sleep. This includes a broken pattern of sleep, starts or the sensation of falling, twitching muscles and allergy issues. The main reason sleep is disturbed in people who have fibromyalgia is because of bursts of brain activity happening while you are asleep. This is something that happens often when you are awake, but when it happens at night you are constantly being woken up throughout the night. You don’t realize it which is why you wonder what is making you so sleepy in the morning. If you had a full night’s sleep you should be well rested.
- Numbness, and tingling
- Frequent or painful urination
Different symptom clusters for men
Men experience many of the same symptoms, but fewer symptoms overall than women. Chronic fatigue, muscle/pain, IBS and restless leg syndrome (RLS) are found in most men who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Women rarely have RLS as a part of the symptom cluster. Recognition of the syndrome in men and how it presents itself is still new. There are many doctors who are unaware of how the symptoms can occur in their male patients. Do not hesitate to offer your doctor information, or to find a new doctor if you feel that would be a better choice.
More unusual symptoms
There are other symptoms that may be associated with fibromyalgia, but they occur rarely. It is important to remember that one symptom never indicates fibromyalgia; it is the presence of many. Some of the rarer symptoms you might have with fibromyalgia include cravings for carbs or chocolate. They can also include a difference in weight either up or down. Your vision might change including getting a lot worse. There might be some uncontrollable sweating and stiffness in the morning. The pain that you feel can go from severe to mild depending upon the day. You might also find that your muscles twitch. Allergy problems can also increase, especially a sensitivity to yeast or mold; sinus drainage, ear pressure, tinnitus and thick mucus secretions.
Some of the other weird symptoms associated with fibromyalgia include pain in your scalp feeling like your hair is being pulled from your head, spacing out, hallucinating smells, lightheadedness, and seizures. You might experience vertigo when you have fibromyalgia which will make it difficult to walk around and do some of the things you love to do. You also can experience chest pain or tightness that mimics a heart attack. This is called costochondritis.
You might find that you are sensitive to noise, light, odors, and any changes in pressure, humidity, or temperature. People with fibromyalgia might find that they have a hard time driving at night.
Other physical symptoms that show up with fibromyalgia may include changes to the surface of your skin. It can become mottled and it might bruise or scar easily. You might have tissue overgrowth resulting in lipomas, ingrown hairs, splitting cuticles, and adhesions. Your nails can curve under and you might have pronounced nail ridges. You can experience hair loss that is temporary. Random symptoms include hemorrhoids, cold hands and feet, hypoglycemia, intense thirst, low blood pressure, low body temperature, noisy joints, eye dryness and nose bleeds that can come on at any time.
What are the treatments for fibromyalgia?
The basic treatment is to use a variety of medications to reduce the symptoms and bring pain under control. The medications used may vary from person to person as everyone has a different cluster set of symptoms. There are many lifestyle changes, alternative treatments and diet changes that have also proven successful in reducing the impact of fibromyalgia on your life.
The worst thing you can do is self-diagnose
The Internet should be used as a resource to help you educate yourself about possibilities, and to learn about lifestyle changes and possible treatments. You should never decide that you have fibromyalgia based upon what you have read. Many of the symptoms can also indicate life threatening conditions. Your doctor can order tests to help determine the issue. There is now a blood test for fibromyalgia that can help identify its presence in some people. Be educated, but always consult with your physician when you notice any symptoms appearing. Once you have a diagnosis, you can explore all the treatments and therapies together. While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there is no reason for you to suffer a loss of quality in your life.